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  • A new ENERGY STAR fridge uses half the electricity of a fridge built prior to 1993.
  • Size appliances to your needs – oversized refrigerators and dishwashers waste electricity
  • Pre-rinsing dishes is not required on modern dishwashers – instead scrape dishes into a compost bin.  Then, experiment with using gentler wash cycles and use the lowest setting that gets everything clean.
  • Check with your utility for appliance rebates.  In general, refrigerators with freezers on top use up to 25 percent less energy than comparable side-by-side refrigerator/freezer models. 
  • Defrost freezers after a quarter-inch of frost develops or buy a self-defrosting unit.
  • Do not place your fridge or freezer where they are on top of or near forced air heating vents, in direct, prolonged exposure sunlight or next to ovens or dishwashers.
  • While cleaning refrigerator coils has been believed to reduce electricity usage, attempts to quantitatively assess this savings claim conclude there is no measurable savings.
  • If your fridge is equipped with a power saver or humidity switch, set it to the energy saving mode. The humidity switch is for climates with high humidity levels rarely seen in our climate.
  • Adjust the thermostat so that the refrigerator is between 36 and 38 F and the freezer is between 0 and 5 F. Place a thermometer in a glass of water and place it in your fridge or freezer.  Check the temperature the next day.
  • Recycle your old appliances. Check with your utility to see if they offer a rebate program for recycling old appliances.


  • Look for gas ranges and ovens with electric ignition. Those with standing pilot lights waste natural gas and pollute the air when not in use.
  • If you do have a gas range, be sure to use a range fan whenever you are cooking. Check that this fan is vented to the outside; many fans just re-circulate the exhaust fumes and blow it in your face. If you find you do not use the fan because it is too loud, purchase a new, quieter fan that ventilates between 100 and 200 cubic feet per minute (CFM).
  • If it is not possible to install a range fan vented to the outside above your gas stove, consider moving it where you can install a fan, or switch to an electric stove.
  • When installing a new, more powerful kitchen fan, make sure it does not back draft any other combustion appliances in your house such as a wood stove, water heater or furnace.  A home performance contractor can help with this. The Home Ventilation Institute has guidelines for choosing kitchen range exhaust.
  • When cooking with electric or gas stoves, keep the drip trays clean.
  • Use your appliances according to the product manual to optimize efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Recycle your old appliances. Check with your utility to see if they offer a rebate program for recycling old appliances.


  • New dishwashers use significantly less water than hand washing – about one fifth as much.
  • Since the 1990s, most dishwashers come equipped with a water temperature booster. If your dishwasher does not have this feature, you may find your water heater temperature is set between 130 and 140 F to compensate. While this higher water temperature may be necessary to clean your dishes, it presents a scalding hazard. In these cases, upgrading to a new dishwasher offers the added benefit of being able to turn down your hot water temperature to 120 F—for both safety and energy savings.
  • Use the right setting for the job. The energy use and water use of each cycle/setting varies greatly, so choose carefully to save money and resources.
  • Use your appliances according to the product manual to optimize efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Recycle your old appliances. Check with your utility to see if they offer a rebate program for recycling old appliances.


  • Replacing cabinet doors is an easy way to transform old cabinets at a fraction of the financial and environmental cost of complete replacement, and can be done with both new and second hand doors.
  • Look for formaldehyde-free MDF or other composite wood made with exterior grade resins for added durability. Urea formaldehyde is a compound that can emit harmful fumes for years after installation.
  • Consider agricultural fiber panels such as wheatboard or strawboard that are free from formaldehyde binders, or FSC-certified exterior grade plywood made with phenol formaldehyde-based glue, rather than the harmful urea formaldehyde-based glue.
  • If building your own wood cabinets, use reclaimed wood or FSC-certified lumber cabinetry. If this is not available, consider reclaimed wood


New kitchen countertops can be a sizable investment. Choosing the best countertop material for your kitchen involves weighing several options based on your priorities.

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Information and considerations

Butcher block

A great do-it-yourself option. Look for FSC-certified wood, or wood from urban salvage logging.  Use wood treatments labeled food safe in compliance with FDA rules. 


A great do-it-yourself option. Look for tiles made from recycled glass, recycled porcelain, salvaged ceramic scrap, and feldspar tailings (waste from feldspar processing). Tile tolerates hot cookware and can be repaired by replacing individual tiles, but can be difficult to keep clean and creates an uneven surface. 

Paper-resin composite

Products like Richlite®, PaperStone® are made using recycled materials, can have nicks and cuts sanded out, and are hygienic. They can be scorched by hot cookware.

Concrete and terrazzo

Terrazo is made from crushed glass and stone in a cement or epoxy substrate. Both concrete and terrazzo countertops are long-lasting and durable, and can incorporate recycled materials.  On the down side, they are heavy so may require cabinet reinforcement.  Also, cement production is energy-intensive and epoxy is petroleum-derived and can emit harmful chemicals while curing.

Solid surface countertops / engineered stone

Solid surface materials (e.g., Corian®) are long lasting and easy to clean, but are made from petrochemicals, can scorch with cookware, scratch easily and are not recyclable.  These countertops also require professional installation, which can account for up to 80 percent of the cost of a new countertop.


Traditional countertops, such as laminates, have their drawbacks:  They can be made with toxic resins, can scorch with hot cookware, show nicks and scratches easily, are not recyclable, and their substrate is prone to water damage. 

  • When shopping for a new or replacement countertop, remember that your choice can impact the kind of sink you install.
  • Consider a backsplash to make the wall behind the counter easy to clean and protect it from moisture damage.  If using the same material as the countertop, find out if it can be fabricated from one piece to eliminate seams between the countertop and wall.  If a seam or joint is unavoidable, look for water-based caulk formulas low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and invest in premium quality caulk.  If you choose a silicone caulk, look for additive-free, aquarium grade products.

Kitchen faucet

  • If refurbishing your old faucet, be sure to include a new aerator. 
  • Before installing aerators or a new faucet check how much water flows through your current faucet. To do this, you can purchase an inexpensive tool (called a flow gauge measuring bag), or make one at home using a gallon jug. Kitchen faucets should have flow rates between 1.5-2.0 gallons per minute. Lower rates lead to poor performance or frustrated users.
  • Choose faucets with ceramic disc valves that are longer lasting and less prone to drips.
  • Consider a feature that reduces water to a trickle while scrubbing dishes without having to turn the water off and on again.
  • View more Eco-Cool Remodel plumbing resources

Kitchen sink

  • Your countertop choice may limit the type of sink you can install. Countertops made from a single material throughout, such as concrete, stone or solid surface, allow for undermounted sinks.  Undermounted sinks make cleanup easier by eliminating the lip present in most surface mount styles.
  • Countertops with a surface of one material and a different base, such as laminate or linoleum, require surface mounting sink styles.
  • Check under the sink. Look where the plumbing penetrates through the floor and wall. If the sink is above an unheated space or on an exterior wall, seal any gaps around the plumbing penetrations.
  • View more Eco-Cool Remodel plumbing resources

Kitchen flooring

Kitchen lighting

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